It hurts so good.
It’s an understatement to say that Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is my favorite show of the season. Its pacing is slow and lovingly deliberate, and its character relationships run so deep that it hurts my heart to watch them fall apart. And fall apart they did.
Sukeroku and Kikuhiko’s complex relationship is, I would argue, one of the most compelling aspects of the show. Kikuhiko is poised, polished, obedient; Sukeroku is wild, unfettered, impulsive. Here are two men as different as night and day, brought together by rakugo and torn apart just as easily by it.
But it’s Kikuhiko who’s doing things “right,” according to the O So Wise Rakugo Masters. Kikuhiko respects the tradition of rakugo, while Sukeroku bowls it over in one fell sweep. His belief in the necessary evolution of rakugo is viewed as problematic. In a heated argument with his master on the subject, he lets slip that audiences find Master’s rakugo “old” and “boring.”
He’s expelled on the spot.
And Master rubs salt into the wound by revealing that Kiku will be the one to inherit the Yakumo name. Good, obedient Kiku, who was the rightful apprentice and always did things right. Kiku had always been envious of Sukeroku’s prodigious talent and effortless charisma, and it’s with shock that he learns that Sukeroku had been jealous too.
And then there’s Miyokichi, another fascinating character in her own right. She’s a pitiful figure, hopelessly in love with Kikuhiko, who, despite loving her back, turns his back on her to prepare for a future without her. So she runs to the arms of an equally broken Sukeroku. Love? I don’t think so.
As Kiku’s relationships splinter into glass shards, his success rockets. He’s enormously popular and highly acclaimed; not to mention that he’s found favor with the stodgy old people that Sukeroku often antagonized. He’s gotten what he wanted–to be able to perform as much rakugo as he wants. But is that what he really wants?
And so we move closer to the present day, where Konatsu and Yotaro sit listening to Yakumo share his tale. Miyokichi is pregnant, undoubtedly with Konatsu. Kikuhiko is set to receive the Yakumo title. Bon and Shin have had their fight.
The pieces are all on the table. I can’t wait for the puzzle to be completed at last.